Sunday, July 21, 2013

Backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness 2013

Thursday morning I was up at 5am to make final preparations for the annual trek with the lady friends.  One of my favorite things about this annual outing is that I don't have to do anything other than show up with my pack and my food.  The other more experienced trekkers do all the planning and permit gathering and just tell the rest of us where to be.  They also tell us lies like, "should be an easy 4 miles in."  But I'm ok with lies, keeps me from getting scared off.

I showered and packed my breakfast and coffee for the road (it felt a bit too early to eat) and luckily I was ready to go come 6am. Gwen, er, I mean, Geri (sorry for the inside joke) and Heidi (or is it Heather?) picked me up and away we went.  I was quickly brought up to speed on the status of the trip so far.   See, three of the members of our group hiked in the day prior, on Wednesday...I'll call them Group I.  Wednesday evening (the evening before we left), Geri had received a disturbing series of texts from Group I - "The hike in was terrible, took us over 7 hours to get here, trail is like a maze, we tried to leave you notes and signs, look for them, and follow true north."

True north?  We're not professional navigators here people.  We don't even have a compass (note to self, buy a compass - and carry a map - both of which Group I had).  These texts almost caused Geri to bail.  What should have been a three to four hour hike took seven?!  Anyway, we were going for it, no turning back now. We are not the type of women to be turned back by a challenge.

Neither Geri or Heidi were on the Yosemite backpacking trip last year so we spent the rest of the drive catching up on, well, everything.  I had my cereal and coffee on the drive and got the scoop on the ladies - Geri just graduated from nursing school and Heidi is becoming a Yoga guru.  All three of us are launching in our own way so it was fun to share mutual excitement about the future. They also shared some funny stories from backpacking trips that took place before my time. 

Of course I told them about my weight loss journey and shocked the heck out of them.  Geri in particular made me laugh out loud, "When I saw you I was all, 'great, here's another hard body, look at those legs. I guess I'll still give her a ride anyway'."  Of course she tells me this after I told her I haven't always looked like this.  We all had a good laugh about that, "I guess I'll still give her a ride."  Ha!

Anyway, it must have been around 9am when we arrived at Wright's Lake in the El Dorado National Forest, our jumping off point.  The area is just gorgeous and the weather was great, a bit on the warm side with a whisper of a breeze.


We made some final adjustment to our gear, which thankfully resulted in me shaving 5-10 pounds off my pack (which was a whopping 47 pounds when I weighed it the night before) and then hit the trail a few minutes after 10am.  (note: Heidi is wearing an SF Nike Marathon shirt - she's done the full marathon four times!)

Geri, Heidi and myself
We quickly made (and recovered from) a navigational error.  Apparently Group I made the same error but instead of recovering after a half-mile in the wrong direction like we did, they went 1.5 miles.  Oops.  But they'd left us a note on the sign telling us to go the other way.  Whew!  About a mile or so later we got lucky and noticed another note they'd left for us, this one just sitting on the ground at a fork in the road.  The wooden sign post had been knocked down and if we hadn't seen their note we'd have gone straight, instead of left.



Apparently they'd put a stick on it to hold it down but the stick was gone.  They also formed a letter G out of some sticks and somehow thought we'd notice that?!  Thank goodness they also opted for a bright orange sticky note.  When I asked them how in the heck we were supposed to notice stick-formed letters on the ground their response was, "we told you to look for signs." I couldn't get over how funny that was. 

Anyway, I was just happy we saw their notes and we carried on in the right direction.  I munched along the way on my trail mix.  Trader Joe's has quite the selection of trail mixes but in the end I went with Rainbow's End, a mix of raisins, roasted peanuts, roasted almonds and m&m looking chocolates. Yum.  I marveled at how I ate the trail mix as needed, when I felt hunger, and didn't feel any urge to eat more than I needed.  
Rainbow's End Trail Mix
We hiked through just gorgeous terrain, shifting at times from marshy meadows with ponds to being surrounded by pines and manzanitas to barren outcrops of granite as far as the eye could see.  


Along the way we ran into a trail volunteer...John.  We picked his brain about the route for a few minutes and he gave us some good tips, "you'll think you're going the wrong way, you'll think you're climbing a drainage area, but keep going" and "the trail will look like a dead-end but keep going anyway."   John is 74 years old and has been volunteering out here for 6 years.  What a dream to be so active and involved at that stage of life.  I had to take a picture with him because I found him so inspiring.



John was out for a six or so night trek all by himself (plus a walkie-talkie thingy).  After our chat with John, we carried on and before too long we entered the Desolation Wilderness. 


Geri, Heidi and I - still smiling!
The hike from here was challenging, both because of elevation gain and technical trails - narrow, rocky, steep - but we were up for the challenge.  

Heidi and Geri reaching the top of a tough climb

We had a rough idea of how far we had to go since I was wearing my Garmin, but weren't 100% sure because of our slight detour at the start.  But taking a look back at Wright's Lake, where we started, sure made us feel we'd come a long way.


Wright's Lake off in the distance
It was getting close to noon when we came to a large outcropping of granite with what seemed like peaks on all sides of us.  We knew we had to climb up but we couldn't see an obvious trail.  I trekked up the most obvious path to check it out but it got super steep and narrow and seemed like a drainage rather than a trail.  Plus is was getting so narrow it was practically unpassable so didn't seem like it could be the way.  I climbed back down and we decided to sit down for lunch.  I'd packed a PB&J sandwich for lunch and had that with some trail mix and water.  After a bit of time in the shade (which was not easy to come by amongst all that granite) we searched for the trail.

We were looking hard for trail cairns and using Geri's phone to identify true north.  After about a half-hour of searching, and finding no trail cairns or obvious trails, Geri became convinced that what I thought was a drainage must be the trail.  So up we went and sure enough, it was the right way.  It got quite narrow but was never altogether unpassable (why John's advice hadn't clicked - "the trail will look like a dead-end but keep going anyway" - I don't know).  Come to find out, Group I spent one and a half hours at this same spot trying to figure out the way.  That made us feel better about our half-hour.  The rest of the trek was almost all climbing.

Geri and Heidi cresting after another tough climb

Geri and I rocking the backpacker look
 
Desolation Wilderness is appropriately named.

It wasn't long before we were hoping to find Lake Gertrude every time we came over a hill.  And finally, just before my Garmin struck mile five, bam - there was the lake.  I let out a big Woo-hoo! And heard a trio of Woo-hoos in return from Group I.  They were SO happy to see us because they'd been worried we'd get lost.  Fortunately between the notes and tip to stay north and the tips from John, we avoided the seven-hour nightmare they experienced.  We made it in a total of 4 hours, 21 minutes - including all stops and lunch.

My Garmin route - you can see where we made a wrong turn near the start, and where we walked around a lot around the middle.
 And here's the elevation profile from our trek in.  Looks like fun doesn't it?


Elevation profile, Wright's Lake to Gertrude Lake - Desolation Wilderness
Full Garmin stats here.



The Ringleader (aka Karen) and I - boy was she happy to see us!
Angie, Heidi, Erin and I


Karen and Geri reviewing where we were.
Let the fun begin!  Actually, we needed to relax so after setting up our tents the next order of business for Group II was a siesta.  I was happy to rest my head for a while.  It was a warm afternoon so napping wasn't easy but I'm pretty sure I drifted in and out of sleep.  We got up a couple hours later and had dinner.  I'd packed Trader Joe's Indian Fare for my dinners, Madras Lentils for the first night, Punjab Eggplant for the second.  I mixed ready-made brown rice in with the meals for an easy hot, yummy, and filling instant dinner.  After dinner we watched the moon rise and the sun set and goofed around taking group pictures.


Geri and Erin under the moon
The Whole Crew:  Heidi, Geri, Angie, Me, Karen and Erin

Fires are not allowed in Desolation Wilderness (which is so sad because Angie is a master fire builder) and the mosquitoes were pretty brutal being we were right next to the lake so we packed it in early.  Up bright and early and making coffee and oatmeal for breakfast.  We made a plan to check out Tyler Lake, which was just over the hill according to the map.  Angie had an allergic reaction to something so she had to stay at camp.  The rest of us packed some snacks and hit the granite.

You can see Wright's in the bottom left, Gertrude near the top just right of center and Tyler next to that.
Tyler lake is a bit larger than Gertrude.  We all took a dip to cool off.


Erin, Heidi, Karen and Geri next to Tyler Lake

Karen scoping out Tyler
Karen and Erin taking a dip in Tyler lake

Me and Heidi - happy campers!
Garlic Naan, Swiss cheese, salami, avocado and hummus- YUM!
After lunch we spent some time exploring around our lake.  Karen and I ended up swimming across Gertrude, so refreshing!

Camping next to Lake Gertrude.  Can you spot our three tents?
Turns out Heidi is a heart lover just like me.  I told her about the nature-carved heart I found on the Yosemite trip last year.  So when we spotted a heart shaped cloud we whipped out our cameras!

Love is in the air
After that we all sat around playing a new-to-me card game, Golf, which was super fun.  And then we coaxed Heidi, a serious Yoga girl, into some impromptu Yoga.

Warrior Pose
Mountain Yoga!  (L to R) Karen, Me, Geri and Heidi

Geri, me, Karen and Heidi

It just doesn't get better than this.

And before too long...we cross paths with another heart, which I have to share.


Follow the signs.
After all that work it was time for dinner!  My appetite was kind of low during the whole trip, I packed way more food than I needed.  Here I am preparing my Punjab Eggplant with brown rice mixed in.



Karen popping in for a taste.
After dinner we put on some music and danced for a bit before taking a walk to watch the sunset.  The sky was lit up with beautiful orange and yellows.

A sunset chat in Desolation Wilderness
I'm all bundled up but it never got really cold at night.
Karen and I spent a few minutes chatting about how beautiful the area is and how few people get out and explore such areas.  Moments like this fill me with gratitude that I made that decision to change, and that I keep making that decision every day to stay the course.  As has been said before, it's not always easy, but it's worth it.

We hit our tents by about 10pm with a plan to rise early and pack up to avoid trekking out in the heat of the day.  Unfortunately I'd got a bit sunburned on my back and whatnot which made sleeping a bit tough.  Up around 5:45am making coffee and breakfast and then packing up.  Here's one last picture of my wee tent (it's a two-man and my buddy Joy and I slept in it all across Europe in the mid-90's, love this tent), which is perfect for me.


My home away from home.
The group just before heading out around 7:45am.


(L to R) - Karen (who didn't quite beat the camera timer), Erin, Geri, Me, Heidi and Angie
Although we were moving at a pretty quick pace I was still able to take in the beauty of it all.



And Heidi spotted another heart in the granite!

Follow your heart.
And then, before you know it, we're seeing people again as we approach civilization. The entire time we were out there we only saw two other people who came in the middle of the night Thursday night and left early Friday morning.  Other than that, we had the whole place to ourselves.  We made the hike down in 2 hours and 12 minutes!  Back at the cars and off with the packs and the boots and a quick dip in Wright's Lake to freshen ourselves for the drive home.  Whew, what a morning!  I felt so good that I'm pretty sure I was ODing on endorphins.

We caravanned into Placerville to stop at Mel's Diner for lunch.  During the drive to lunch I got a little overwhelmed with the beauty of the trip and I actually got teary.  The warm air was blowing my hair, Jack Johnson was singing to me and I just felt so full of life and love and gratitude for all the beauty in the world, for my family and kids, for my body and nature and music and food and, and, and - just everything, up to and including the wonderful women I'd been lucky to trek with.  I used to carry an extra 90+ pounds everywhere I went, now I'm fortunate enough to temporarily manage 40 or so just for fun.

I'm feeling the need to get up on my soapbox for a minute so bear with me.  This is your life, live it.  You give up a day of your life in exchange for each 24 hours, make them meaningful, live them fully.  Stop putting off your dreams and goals, start grabbing them, start reaching out and taking the future you desire. Don't wait until Monday, start today, now. It's all up to you, don't let bad habits and lack of faith stand in your way, you don't have to see how you'll get there to start, just take the first step and keep taking steps and soon you'll find the journey is the way.  Life is rich, nature is free, get out there and soak it in.  Thank you for listening.

The beautiful trip was winding down but before that, food!  At Mel's we all shared a couple orders of onion rings and I split a veggie burger with Heidi.  Delicious.  Oh, and I had a small Oreo shake because it sounded like a great treat after all the sweat and hard work.  I had to beg the waitress to let me order a kid-sized shake, how sad is that?  I told her I'd pay for the adult size but bring me the kid size.  In the end she charged me the kid size, which of course was still huge.

Sweet!
Angie and I sharing a smile.
And that was it.  We all shared hugs and a few more laughs and then hit the road for home.  I think I fell asleep for a bit in the backseat.  I got home to find Miguel had taken the kids to the Russian River with some friends for the day so I had the whole place to myself.  I unpacked, started laundry, did a little grocery shopping (and bought a compass!) and started writing this post.  What a fun few days.  I can't wait for next year.  Between now and then I hope to learn more about topo map reading so I can put that compass to good use next year.

p.s.  If you have any questions about backpacking or this trip feel free to send me a message either through my FB page or email (at the bottom of my FAQ page).

9 comments:

  1. Hey Michelle,
    Thank you for sharing about that amazing trip. You are an inspiration and continually remind me of what is possible. The photos were gorgeous. As are you! I feel newly committed to getting out to beautiful places more often. I would love to go backpacking some day (but with a well-marked trail...that made me a little nervous when you wrote about not knowing where the trail was).

    Glad all is well and thank you for getting up on your soapbox at the end. Good reminder.

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  2. Great write up!

    Michelle, you are an inspiration, loved reading your blog.

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  3. Awesome post Michelle!!! So inspiring. You captured it beautifully in pictures and words! Such an honor to have met you and hiked with you--you are truly inspiring!

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  4. I would like to give myself this gift for a day or two. This is such an amazing adventure. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Michelle, How did you connect with this group of ladies? And what motivated the wilderness adventures together? Is it a tradition or something new?

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    1. Karen married one of my childhood neighbors so that's how I got "in". It's an annual tradition that I think Karen started, it's very empowering to be a group of all women out in the wilderness fending for ourselves. This was my second year joining the group and I hope to do it every year from now to forever :)

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  6. this is an awesome post! makes me want to figure out how to find a similar group of ladies in my area. how did you get hooked up with this trekking group?

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    1. Karen married one of my childhood neighbors so that's how I got "in". I would suggest searching Meetup, they seem to have a group for everything, or checking in with your local outdoor sporting goods store (is there an REI in your area?) to see if they organize treks. It's worth it!

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    2. well, darn, i was hoping that there was some website that helped you guys hook up with each other. i'll just have to see what i can find on my own

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If you don't want to login, use the Name/URL option (just type in your name...or any name for that matter). If you use the "Anonymous" option your comment won't get posted. - Michelle